Shoes for Orphan Souls is asking the Cleveland community to lend a helping hand, or a new pair of shoes, in what has been a challenging year for all.
Now 21 years old, Shoes for Orphan Souls is a drive conducted every August by Buckner International, a nonprofit ministry dedicated to providing children and teenagers in poverty with a pair of new shoes, allowing them to attend school and live healthier lives with their feet protected.
The program has collected new shoes across the country to distribute to children and teens in need — locally, regionally and abroad. Lead Coordinator Bobbie Reagan said last year was a record-setting year for the program, collecting nearly 4,000 pairs of shoes to ship to Dallas, Texas, for global distribution.
This year, though, she’s worried.
She’s concerned that the coronavirus pandemic will create apprehensions about donating or volunteering for the shoe-packing day in August, so the Shoes for Orphan Souls team isn’t taking any chances.
“We’re taking every precaution the CDC recommends,” said Shane Lawson, volunteer and founder of His Vision Ministries. "That includes everything from hand sanitizer to wearing masks and social distancing.”
Reagan said there are fewer collection boxes throughout the community this year, around half compared to “a normal year,” that gains upwards of 40 collection locations.
She is hoping that people will be encouraged to make a monetary donation through Shoe Show or His Vision Ministries for Shoes for Orphan Souls, instead.
“If people are concerned about going out and buying a pair of shoes, they can donate and we’ll buy the shoes for them,” Reagan said, adding that she can always find a good deal.
Reagan’s passion for the program was planted when she was young and without a pair of shoes. Unable to go to school without shoes on her feet, she was moved to tears when a kind resident purchased and donated brand new shoes to her and each of her siblings in her family of 10.
Her personal experience and strong faith inspire her to continue this program each year, “pandemic or not.”
“I put all my faith in God and ask him to deliver for these kids, that every child that is meant to have a pair of shoes in-hand will have shoes in-hand,” she said.
Boxes for drop-offs will begin accepting donations on Monday, July 27. Drop-off locations include:
• Bank of Cleveland, 190 Paul Huff Parkway, Cleveland, TN;
• Bowater Credit Union,4531 Hardwick Farms Parkway, Cleveland, TN;
• Bowater Credit Union,1040 King St. SE, Cleveland, TN;
• Cedar Ridge SDA Church, 8408 Highway 60, Georgetown, TN;
• Clearview Ministries, 5957 US-411, Benton, TN;
• Cleveland Daily Banner, 1505 25th St. NW, Cleveland, TN 37311;
• Corinth Baptist Church, McDonald, TN;
• New Liberty Baptist Church, 13746 Birchwood Pike, Birchwood, TN;
• Ocoee Tire & Auto, 4947 US-411, Benton, TN;
• Ocoee Utilities, 5631 Waterlevel Hwy, Cleveland, TN;
• Shoe Show, 2600 Keith St., Cleveland, TN;
• Westwood Baptist Church,4001 Georgetown Road, Cleveland, TN; and
• White Wing Christian Book Store, 3750 Keith Street NW, Cleveland, TN
According to the Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls® website, the global outreach is the largest humanitarian aid project of Buckner International. It provides "new shoes and socks to orphans and vulnerable children in the United States and throughout the world."
In explaining its purpose, and pointing to the impact of volunteers and donors, the Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls mission specifies, "When you donate new shoes through Buckner, they will be received by one of the world’s most vulnerable children. And while Shoes for Orphan Souls serves children all over the world, 20 percent of our shoes stay in the United States, offering hope to children in communities just like yours."
Since 1999, Buckner has distributed more than 4 million pairs of new shoes and socks to children in 83 countries.
The Shoes for Orphan Souls website answers the question, "Why shoes matter?"
The factors include:
• Shoes protect against disease and infection. In many developing countries, children walk barefoot in muddy, rocky terrain to gather clean water or go to school. Parasites and diseases, including hookworm, jiggers and tetanus, can enter the body through cuts in the feet. These illnesses can stunt a child’s growth and development, as well as cause lifelong mental damage.
• Shoes lower barriers to school attendance. Many schools around the world require children to wear shoes to attend, but for many poverty-stricken families, shoes are a luxury they cannot afford. Studies also show that children who are healthy are more likely to be successful in school and have higher attendance, increasing their chances of obtaining an education and rising out of poverty.
• Shoes demonstrate worth and God’s love to orphans and vulnerable children. Typically, children in orphanages share everything — they do not have a single possession of their own. New shoes provide hope for these children that someone out there cares about them and loves them unconditionally.
• Shoes connect families to holistic ministry. For many families, receiving shoes is often the first step to connect them to critical services, ministry and mentoring at the Buckner Family Hope Centers in their communities. Hope Center staff help families make plans for transformation and walk alongside them as their lives are transformed.
And finally, why new shoes?
The Shoes for Orphan Souls website specifies, "New shoes last longer, and as a gift to a child with few possessions, they communicate volumes about his or her inherent worth. Simply put, we think the children we serve are worth it."